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Physicians at UCF Pegasus Health say those with chronic health conditions are at greatest risk

The number of flu-related deaths in Central Florida serves to illustrate the severity of the virus this season, as physicians at UCF Pegasus Health call for those who haven’t received the vaccination yet to get one immediately. This is especially important for individuals—even young people—with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart conditions.

UCF Pegasus Health physicians say it’s not too late to get a flu shot because the season extends well into February.

“Even though it takes 7-10 days for the vaccination to protect you, we may still have a long flu season ahead,” said Dr. Bernard Gros, a board-certified cardiologist at UCF Pegasus Health who also teaches at the medical school. “And if you do get sick, don’t simply assume you’re well just because you no longer have a fever. You owe it to others around you to stay at home until your physician has cleared you to return to work or school.”

In addition to protecting the individual, a flu shot helps protect your family, friends and coworkers, UCF Pegasus Health physicians say. The more people are inoculated, the healthier your “herd,” the people you come into direct contact with on a daily basis. A healthy herd means fewer people will come down with the flu virus.

Those considered at highest risk for developing the flu include children younger than 5, the elderly, and those with chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease and weakened immune systems.

“When a patient with chronic heart or lung disease, for example, contracts the flu, it often triggers additional complications not often seen in healthy individuals,” said Dr. Gros. “Heart patients who are otherwise stable can experience additional stress from the flu virus. It makes their hearts work harder and that can cause potentially dangerous ripple effects.”

The need for flu vaccinations also is vital for those with diabetes. In fact, a recent study conducted in Canada found that working-age adults with diabetes appeared to have an increased risk of hospitalization from the flu than those without the disease. This is partially attributed to their additional health problems, and the flu does nothing but further complicate their wellbeing.

This year’s flu also has hit young people hard, and those with chronic conditions are especially at risk, said Dr. Lisa Barkley, a UCF Pegasus Health physician who is board certified in family, adolescent and sports medicine.

“We tend to think of people at higher risk for catching the flu as being older. However, 20 percent of young people have chronic conditions like asthma and are strongly advised to get vaccinated,” she said. “Add on top of that, many of these young people with chronic conditions are in classrooms and living in dorms with others who are sick,” she said.

The physicians said simple lifestyle changes can help prevent the spread of the flu. Frequent and proper hand washing is a primary defense. Dr. Barkley also warns her patients against allowing others to handle their cell phones. And if they do, be careful to wipe them down with a sanitizer. Do the same for shared office equipment like computer keyboards.

If you think you’re over the flu virus simply because you don’t have a fever, think again, Dr. Barkley said. Many medications taken to relieve the aches and pains of viral infections also mask symptoms like the fever. And when there’s a fever, there’s a chance of making those around you sick. So when in doubt about whether you’re ready to go back to work or school, consult with your physician.

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